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Today on Tablet

Plus-sized fashion, Oscar season, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Marjorie Ingall profiles (in slideshow form!) Deb Malkin, whose Brooklyn boutique caters to women size 12 and up. Liel Leibovitz compares and contrasts two Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language Film: Ajami, from Israel, and The White Ribbon, from Germany. Josh Lambert’s weekly round-up of notable forthcoming books includes the hardboiled cop story Boca Mournings. Whenever The Scroll is in Boca, it tries to sleep in at least until the afternoons.

Son of NYT’s Israel Reporter Is in the IDF

Should the Times yank him from the beat?

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Earlier reports have been confirmed: the son of Ethan Bronner, who is the New York Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, has enlisted in the Israeli military. Times editor Bill Keller told the paper’s ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, that this was the case, and insisted there were no plans to remove Bronner from his post: “Ethan has proved himself to be the most scrupulous of reporters,” Keller said. “We have the utmost confidence that his work will continue to meet the highest standards.” For his part, Bronner, who has covered the area for almost three decades, said: “I wish to be judged by my work, not by my biography. … Either you are the kind of person whose intellectual independence and journalistic integrity can be trusted to do the work we do at the Times, or you are not.”

For the record, various folks and groups have accused Bronner of being biased about the Mideast in every imaginable way; it is those who accuse him of being biased in Israel’s favor who are in dudgeon over this. In my opinion, it is literally impossible to have his job and not face those criticisms. (Also, for the record, Keller says he would be inclined to keep Bronner in his post even if his son is deployed in combat.)

Should Bronner keep his job? The question is not inside baseball: there are few if any individuals who are more influential when it comes to shaping mainstream U.S. perception of the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian situation than the lead Times reporter. Let’s grant that Bronner’s actual journalism has been, under hypothetical totally objective standards, completely without bias and beyond reproach. Hoyt calls Bronner an “excellent reporter”; I agree. We can also grant that, in an ideal world, Bronner’s “work” and not his “biography” would be the sole standard by which he is judged.

Hoyt and I agree that Bronner has been fair-minded. But Hoyt and I also agree with Alex Jones, a Pulitzer-winning Harvard press expert. He told Hoyt: “The appearance of a conflict of interest is often as important or more important than a real conflict of interest. I would reassign him.” Such a move, frankly, is unfair to Bronner, “but the newspaper has to come first,” he added.

Assuming another of the Times’s excellent reporters is subbed in for Bronner, it’s difficult to see who would be harmed by Bronner’s move other than Bronner, who would not be the first person to have his career or personal life compromised in some manner by the completely legitimate behavior of a loved one. This is the price of doing business. Surely someone who has covered the Middle East for a quarter-century has learned that the world is not always a fair place.

Too Close to Home [NYT]

Earlier: Report: NYT J’lem Chief Has Son in IDF

Daybreak: A’jad Ignites New Nuke Worries

Plus Abbas OKs indirect talks, a mohel’s grandson for VP, and more in the news

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• President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly ordered further enrichment of uranium, ostensibly for a medical-research reactor. The move immediately heightened tensions over the country’s nuclear program. [WSJ]
• President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to the U.S. model of indirect talks, whereby envoy George Mitchell will present an offer to the Israelis and the Palestinians and then shuttle between articulating the other’s position. [Haaretz]
• The New Israel Fund, a U.S. charity that funds several Palestinian human rights groups, has become a massive political football in Israel, with the right accusing it of enabling the Goldstone Report. [LAT]
• The new vice president of Costa Rica, Luis Lieberman, is Jewish. His grandfather was the Central American country’s first mohel; presumably campaign slogans about cutting out unnecessary spending all but wrote themselves. [Arutz Sheva]
• Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who somehow still chairs the Homeland Security Committee, called on the international community to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. Failing that, he added, there would be military action. [Haaretz]
• Harry Schwarz, who came to South Africa to escape the Nazis and became a major anti-apartheid leader there, died at 86. At various points, he served as Nelson Mandela’s defense lawyer; an important opposition member of parliament; and the ambassador to the United States. [JTA]

Sundown: Obviously It’ll Be Called ‘Rhapsody in Blue’

Plus the Jewish ‘Wolf Man,’ the Jewish Jonas Bros., and more

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• Zachary Quinto—he played Spock in the Star Trek movie—has signed on to play the lead in (get this) Steven Spielberg’s George Gershwin biopic. [Paste]

•The original 1941 The Wolf Man (the remake with Benicio del Toro comes out in a week) was written to manifest how German Jewish screenwriter Robert Siodmak felt others perceived him. [LAT]

• A profile, in op-ed form, of Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League. [IHT]

• Prime Minister Gordon Brown acknowledged and publicly worried about the record number of anti-Semitic incidents Great Britain experienced in 2009. [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine, has canceled its print edition. [Josh Nathan-Kazis]

• Moshiach Times Band is the religious Jews’ answer to the Jonas Brothers. Below, they play “One Mitzvah at a Time.” God help us. [Heeb]

Israel and Syria In Crisis

Sniping and saber-rattling at unusually high levels

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You might want to head into this weekend hoping for peace in the Middle East. Not just peace in some not-too-distant future, but peace, like, this weekend. Possible enemy: Syria. The latest round of hostilities has been simmering for several days, but it was upped yesterday when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced bellicosely, “I think that our message must be clear to [Syrian leader Bashar] Assad. In the next war, not only will you lose, you and your family will lose the regime. Neither you will remain in power, nor the Assad family.” While Prime Minister Netanyahu immediately moved in with an even-handed statement that sought to lower the heat, Syria’s counterpart responded to Lieberman in kind: “Israel should not test Syria’s determination,” the foreign minister said. “Israel knows that war will move to the Israeli cities.” Lefty correspondent Aluf Benn described the current state of things as a “crisis,” noting that Arab countries felt provoked in 1967 after the Israeli chief-of-staff (Yitzhak Rabin, as it happens) threatened Syria.

Today, Lieberman, cooled down, clarified his remarks in an effort to lower tensions before things get too out of hand.

Kidding! “My response, which I made in order to clarify that the situation [with Syria] is unbearable, was immediately met with a hysterical reaction in Israel of ‘how dare we anger the nobleman,’” he said. “I don’t work for the media or for public opinion.”

No, Minister Lieberman, but you do work for the Israeli people. Particularly at a time when both Israel’s newest enemy, Turkey, and its oldest friend, the United States, are seeking closer ties to Syria (America has proposed its first ambassador in five years), it is difficult to argue that the Israeli people are best served by needless provocations like these. Those who have illusions about Assad’s malevolence are certainly wrong, and should be persuaded otherwise. But even if doing so was Lieberman’s true intention, as he claims, it looks like that message got lost in the noise he made while doing it.

Israeli Minister Adds Heat to Exchange With Syria [NYT]
Tension With Syria Can Turn Into War in an Instant [Haaretz]
FM on Syria Feud: Grave Issues in Mideast Require a Response [Haaretz]

Un Problema en Venezuela

More and more, Jews there are leaving

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Caracas, Venezuela.(Vos Iz Neias?)

The Jews of Bogotá, Colombia, have established a special committee to receive Jews arriving from Venezuela, mainly because so many Venezuelan Jews are deciding to do just that: the anti-Semitic climate in Venezuela, at times actively cultivated by President Hugo Chávez’s government, has not abated. The World Jewish Congress estimates that “several dozen” Jewish families have already made the trip (which is much more when you consider the relatively small total number of Jewish families in the country). “We are not promoting that Venezuelan Jews come here because such a thing wouldn’t be fair to Venezuela’s Jewish community,” said a leader among the Bogotá Jews. “But we have to take care of the situation and we have set up telephone lines so they can be in touch with us whenever they want.”

Venezuelan Jews Move to Colombia Due To Political, Economic Crisis [World Jewish Congress/Vos Iz Neias?]

Earlier: Hugo Chávez’s Uses for Anti-Semitism

An Orthodox Jewish Cowboy

The football kind, that is

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This year’s Lombardi Trophy, which will go to the winning team Sunday night.(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

We learn in the New York Times today about Shlomo Veingrad, a former Green Bay Packer and Dallas Cowboy offensive tackle who should probably be counted as among the best Jewish football players since Sid Luckman led the Chicago Bears to NFL championships in the 1940s, if for no other reason than that he wears a Super Bowl ring! (He was on Dallas’s 1992 championship squad, from before the Cowboys started sucking.) Now, an observant Jew, he tours Chabad houses talking about how he rediscovered his religion when a Green Bay, Wisconsin, shop owner took him under his wing.

The article contains this provocative meditation on how Jews feel about Jewish athletes:

For Jews, abundant as fans but uncommon as top players, the visibility of a Shlomo Veingrad serves both reassuring and cathartic roles. Having a Jew to root for—whether Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax or the Israeli N.B.A. rookie Omri Casspi—“has a lot to do with our desire to define ourselves as Americans in the most American way, which is sports,” said Jeffrey S. Gurock, a history professor at Yeshiva University and the author of Judaism’s Encounter With American Sports.

At a deeper and more anxious level, American Jews continue to grapple with the stereotypical view of the Jew as egghead, nerd, weakling. That dismissive portrayal was a staple not only of anti-Semites, but also of early Zionists, who envisioned their “new man” with his plow and rifle as the antidote to the “golus Yid,” the exilic Jew unable even to defend himself.

A Jewish ballplayer is one thing; a Jew on the ultra-violent, no-holds-barred gridiron—and one who plays not one of the daintier skill positions like quarterback, or wide receiver, or even cornerback (or even, HaShem help us, kicker), but offensive lineman—might be the ultimate “new man.” Anyway, if sports are America’s (mostly) harmless, (mostly) guilt-free outlet for all those primal tribal urges that are best not put to more consequential use, then surely the original Tribe deserves to get in on it, too.

Oh, and a reminder for Sunday night: Jews have no special obligation to pull either for the Indianapolis Colts or the New Orleans Saints. It’s usually more fun to root for the winner, though, so you should probably root for the Colts. The Scroll’s pick: Colts (-6) over Saints.

An Offensive Tackle Named Shlomo [NYT]

Earlier: Jewish QB Got Zero Playing Time

Rep. Weiner Agrees: Sen. Lieberman Is ‘A Dick’

N.Y. congressman gives Jon Stewart ‘naches’

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Okay, so admittedly there was a slight smile on the face of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York) when Jon Stewart asked him last night, “Is Lieberman a dick?” and he answered, “Yes, Jon.” But he didn’t qualify it! And certainly Weiner might feel sourly toward Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut), given the latter’s brazen health-care flip-flopping.

Weiner was on the The Daily Show to talk about his far more progressive plans for reform: his signature issue is the Medicare buy-in, which would allow certain additional folks—recent college grads, the newly unemployed, the pre-retirement middle-aged—to purchase Medicare, the government-run senior citizens’ insurance program, for themselves. While Weiner had kind words for President Barack Obama, he also made a pointed, sophisticated criticism: “The President has been too much LBJ here,” he said, referring to the former president and Senate majority leader’s legislative savvy. “We’ve been focusing on getting 60 votes in the Senate, and we’ve forgot that 100 million Americans are watching this debate wondering what it means for them.”

Stewart and Weiner also chatted about how they have been friends since the 1980s—apparently they used to go to the beach together. “I don’t know what you’ve done with Anthony Weiner, the one that I knew,” Stewart told him at conversation’s close, “but this new cat, this guy right here, in front of me? It gives me naches. That’s all I’m saying, it gives me naches.”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Anthony Weiner
www.thedailyshow.com
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Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Is Joe Lieberman Too Jewish?

The Last Great Yiddish Poet

Nextbook and Tablet authors remember Avrom Sutzkever

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“What instruments we have agree/The day of his death was a dark cold day”: W.H. Auden wrote that about W.B. Yeats, but we tend to think it true of most poets, and Avrom Sutzkever, the 20th Century’s greatest Yiddish poet, seems no exception. Born in modern-day Belarus Smorgon, a shtetl located in what is now Belarus, not too far from the Lithuanian metropolis of Vilnius, he smuggled arms into the Vilnius ghetto after the Nazis invaded, managing to escape to Moscow before being shipped away. He soon made his way to Mandatory Palestine, and spent most of the rest of his life in Israel; he died in Tel Aviv  last month at 96. You can read three of his best-known works here.

In Tablet Magazine, Zackary Sholem Berger celebrated Sutzkever’s ability to continue evolving:

While other writers perseverated on the world that was lost—which for many led to artistic stasis—Sutzkever built new worlds in lyric self-expression. Yes, he wrote about ghetto existence, and about life in hiding while the Nazis raged, but those were his Holocaust-era works, not signposts to an unchanging style. Historical moments were for him the raw material for his own poetic vision, not excuses for occasional verse.

At Jewish Ideas Daily, Ruth R. Wisse—author of Nextbook Press’s Jews and Powertestifies that Sutzkever inspired her to become a professor of Yiddish literature: “Sutzkever is a master of precisely the kind of wordplay that defies translation, and of a wit that exploits the singularity of a language whose elements are ingeniously fused.”

And in The New Republic’s excellent new online supplement, The Book, Tablet Magazine contributor Jeremy Dauber finds Sutzkever a premier poet of catastrophe:

Sutzkever’s simple descriptions of enormous horrors—perhaps most famously the couplet “Did you ever see in fields of snow/Frozen Jews, in row upon row?”—split the difference, reducing the traces of mass human homicide to a childlike, wondering response at what seems to have become the new natural landscape.

Golden Link [Tablet Magazine]
Abraham Sutzkever: In Memoriam [Jewish Ideas Daily]
The Elegist [The Book]
Abraham Sutzkever, 96, Jewish Poet and Partisan, Dies [NYT]

Related: Jews and Power [Nextbook Press]

Today on Tablet

In the Glass family apartment, Jewish pork, Davos Shabbos, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Staff Writer Marissa Brostoff arguesthat J.D. Salinger’s Glass family stories are indelibly Jewish in a way that is nonetheless quite different from those by contemporaries Bellow, Mailer, and Roth: “Zooey has plenty of complaints, but Portnoy’s is not one of them.” As pork has become increasingly trendy in the foodie world, reports Lisa Keys, it has even made its way to where it might fear to tread: Jewish cuisine. Business writer Daniel Gross tells us how amid the multicultural networking at the annual World Economic Forum at Davos, he attended a lovely Shabbat dinner with some very powerful Jews. In his weekly haftorah column, Liel Leibovitz savors the small pleasure, and very minor sin, of gossip. The Scroll is Tablet Magazine’s blog: gossip is all we do!

Nightmare Austrian Puppy Ad

No wonder he looks unhappy!

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Someone hasn’t been fed!(AP/Haaretz)

So that picture was on a flyer advertising an Austrian dog-interest magazine called Wuff. (“Böse” means “bad.”) Above it, the question: “What differentiates us?” Um, you really want us to tell you?

Wuff pulled the ad after the Jewish community (and, hopefully, everyone else) complained. Though for the record, Wuff’s publisher insists that he didn’t intend the image to remind viewers of Jewish persecution. Really.

This seems like a good time to remind folks that Puppy Bowl VI is right around the corner. Some fierce competitors this year.

Austrian Magazine Pulls Ad of Dog Wearing Nazi-Era Jewish Badge [AP/Haaretz]

Daybreak: Clinton Reveals Peace Plan

Plus China nixes sanctions, Lieberman rattles saber, and more

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• Did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tip the U.S. hand? She said “the 1967 borders, with swaps, should be the focus of the negotiations over borders,” maybe revealing plans to use the Green Line as a basis for the final status. [NYT]
• While Europe and even Russia have toughened of late, China indicated that it is unlikely to approve further U.N. sanctions against Iran at this time. [WP]
• Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman gave a rabble-rousing—some might say blustery—speech warning Syrian leader Bashar Assad that he will be deposed in a future war with Israel. [NYT]
• Though U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized Israel and the Palestinians for not independently probing the charges in the Goldstone Report, Israel was nonetheless overall pleased with Ban’s reception of its response, in which he explicitly withheld judgment of Israel’s exculpatory findings. [JPost]
• In a rare interview, Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, accused Israel of putting him in solitary confinement out of spite. [Ynet]
• Elie Wiesel initiated a full-page ad, which will run in the New York Times and elsewhere soon, condemning Iran’s human rights record and nuclear program; over 40 Nobel laureates have co-signed. [Haaretz]

Sundown: U.S. Jews Uneasy With Israel

Plus J.D.’s Jewishness Unease, blustery Dubai, and more

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• Diaspora Minister Yuli Edelstein reports from his travels that while the problem of pluralism and gender discrimination in Israel gets little attention among Israelis, it is very important to Diaspora Jews. [Haaretz]
• Some former Obama supporters among Orthodox Jews are feeling buyer’s remorse. [The Jewish Star/Failed Messiah]
• The Dubai police commissioner pledged to seek a warrant for Benjamin Netanyahu’s arrest if it turns out Mossad was behind the assassination of a Hamas weapons procurer there. [Haaretz]
• The head of the Half-Jewish Network stands up for J.D. Salinger’s Jewishness despite the Catcher in the Rye author’s Gentile mother. [Jewcy]
• A profile of Jason Marquis, a 31-year-old starting pitcher about to begin his first season with the Washington Nationals. [Washington Jewish Week via Kaplan’s Korner]
• Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), one of the more outspoken Jewish politicians (which in a group that includes Barney Frank and Rahm Emanuel is saying something!), is on The Daily Show tonight at 11 P.M. [The Daily Show]

The Semite of ‘Shear Genius’

Hairstylist Jon Steineck

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Season 3 of Bravo’s hairstyling competition Shear Genius premiered last night, and already we know which contestant we’re rooting for: Jon Steineck, 38, who in one shot could be seen wearing a “Hebrew Hammer” t-shirt.

If further proof were needed, in a profile with the hometown Des Moines Register Steineck name-checked both Bette Midler and his mother.

Interview with Jon Steineck [Des Moines Register]

‘Commentary’: Feminists Are Ruining Purim

But isn’t some reinterpretation necessary?

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Purim is just around the corner (it begins February 28th), and that means just one thing: yummy yummy hamentaschen. Well, two things: yummy yummy hamentaschen and a long essay in Commentary decrying feminist reinterpretations of the holiday.

The article—by Abby Wisse Schachter, an editor at the New York Post—employs the common Commentary tactic of labeling a non-traditional idea “trendy,” then further using it as an example of something Wrong With Society Today. The “trend” that’s been spotted this month is the practice of seeing Vashti, the queen of Persia who is deposed at the beginning of the Purim story for refusing to dance naked for her husband, King Ahasuerus, as the true heroine of the holiday tale. In this reading, Queen Esther—Vashti’s replacement, and the traditional one worthy of praise (the scroll that tells the story is named after her)—is a lesser figure: she lacks her predecessor’s admirable chutzpah, relying instead on a more old-fashioned brand of feminine wiles to get what she wants (that is, to save the Jews of the kingdom).

These trendsetters—mostly veterans of the original 1960s/70s women’s movement—are launching a “feminist war on Purim,” Schachter contends. She is justified in her scorn for some of the more inane Purim revisions: surely it is simplistic (not to mention self-parodic) to extol Hillary Clinton as a modern-day Vashti figure, right?

But these extreme, erroneous interpretations may just be the price we pay for the ability to update our readings of ancient stories in light of contemporary values. And it is a price worth paying: the only alternatives to such reinterpretation are to adopt religious fundamentalism or to reject the tales’ teachings altogether.

In fact, that’s what’s happened recently with the Hanukkah story, which a number of readers—and not raging liberals, either—have argued is deeply jingoistic, and bears a moral that extols fanaticism. Rereading the Purim story, which ends with the Jews killing 75,000 Persians, is what allows us not to throw the whole thing out.

The Problem with Purim [Commentary]

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